Monday, March 30, 2009

Just received this article about the "Women's Ware/Women's Wear" exhibition in Michigan, featuring some great comments about my work in the show. Wish I could have been there for this discussion, but alas...
detail of "Sacred Ovaries", 2001

The Beginning of What Will Never Be The Same, or the Artist/Baby Thing

My earliest baby thoughts were part of a fantasy I constructed in my pre-teen years. Having no use for boys, I dreamt that someday my sister and I would buy a huge farmhouse. There, we would raise stray dogs and stray babies, one big happy family. The visuals included outdoor dinners under the trees at very long tables, like in Europe, followed by nights around the campfire, playing guitar and singing James Taylor songs.

Unlike some of the poor, nervous women I see these days in my pre-delivery classes, I’m no stranger to the baby thing..... my parents, good Catholics that they were, had three of us in quick succession, followed by a second round years later. So, at a fairly young age, I diapered, I burped, and I knew how to hold a newborn head so it doesn’t fall off. I was so comfortable around babies that when I left home for Paris at age eighteen, I requested an au pair family with an infant, and got one. Taking care of five-month-old François for five hours a day seemed like a fun and fairly effortless means to the end of studying at The Sorbonne and living on the Left Bank for a year. When I returned to the States, I found to my surprise that I missed the physical sensation of constantly having a baby on my hip, and actually had to restrain myself from grabbing women’s infants when they would prop them on my framing counter at Prints-N-Things.

Concurrent with my 30-hour workweek putting endless Monet prints behind glass, I was taking a full course load at SUNY Binghamton, where I discovered Women’s Studies classes. Endless discussions of Biological Imperative, my ever-strengthening passion for art making, and reading lots of Simone De Beauvoir led me to the conclusion that if I really wanted to accomplish something important in this life, I simply had to be childless. I spent the following 20 years in complete, unwavering devotion to art making and living A Big Life (travel, sexual freedom, dinner parties with interesting people). I let nothing get in my way.

At my ten year high school reunion, I was in the middle of grad school, desperately poor, but doing what I loved, and most of my classmates were passing around baby pictures. After being asked for the tenth time about my marital status, I recall suppressing the distinctly cynical comment lying in wait on the tip of my tongue, “And what have YOU accomplished in your life?.... no, I mean... something that dogs and cows cannot do?”

I honestly was not thinking about children at all while I worked towards getting tenure, finishing that next piece, or procuring that next exhibition. I ignored the boyfriends who told me that I did not know how to relax, and lived to work. But, somewhere along the way, the endless striving, the hundreds of all-nighters, and the constant fixation on the next accomplishment to the exclusion of all else began to feel unbalanced, bordering on pathological. I sometimes found myself in a dark and empty place. By its very nature, the life of a workaholic does not allow for much self reflection: you keep yourself so busy that you never have time to stop and think about why you need to keep yourself so busy.

I began to make room for some other things... redefining my concept of A Big Life. First came the dog, followed by a commitment to a man I actually thought I could live with. This expansion thing felt good, so we worked on a having a baby. We were both open to what the universe would decide for us. Blessed with the gift of passion for my work, I never felt the desperation for pregnancy that I hear so many women my age talk about.... I even began to feel guilty that maybe I did not want a baby badly enough. The fact is, I felt quite confident that I would be happy with or without a child, and could see the pros and cons of each kind of life.

This ambivalence ended sometime last September.

You see, for many years now, I have been making work about human vulnerability and strong emotion, pointing out how American society in particular discourages the display of frailty. I plummeted the depths of my own soul and put it on the canvas. I’ve made crying self portraits, a series of crying men, references to my hidden psychological maelstroms, and dark familial dysfunctionality.

I thought I was being brave and confrontational. I felt like I was way out there, putting it all on the line, and holding nothing back. “Here I am”, I thought, “I have eviscerated myself, and give it as a gift to you, the viewer, so you will not feel alone.”

But there I was, this past September, lying on my back in a dark room. They turned on the monitor, squeezed the warm, slippery goo on my belly, and turned on the ultrasound machine. Up on the monitor, I saw a creature, wiggling its butt. I suddenly had the sensation of having lived in a pitch black room for all of my life, and opening the door to a light so bright that I felt certain it would kill me. I quickly closed the door because I couldn’t stand it, it took me by surprise, but I had caught a glimpse of what was to come.

I knew in that moment that whatever hell I had been through in my life, however genuine I had been in my efforts to convey that rawness in my work, none of that compared to what I was facing at this instant. I thought of all the proselytizing I had done about the depths of emotion, laying one’s self-bare... and realized that I was an imposter; I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. My daughter is not even here yet, and I can feel my capacity for every possible emotion stretching wide open: my fears for myself are nothing compared to my fears for her, and I can barely imagine how joy might be, amplified to this extent.

I know I am about to experience something far beyond what I could ever envision, as my heart is removed from my body, and I prepare for the day that I hold it in my hands.

Of course, I can’t wait to see what it does to my work.

And... more importantly, I remind myself... I can’t wait to see what it does to my life.


Friday, March 27, 2009


I apologize for the lack of posts.... I am currently packing up my home and studio for a move to the Washington, DC area while preparing to give birth to my first child, a girl, in a few weeks. I expect life to be in substantial upheaval for at least another month or so as I have a baby and relocate. On the bright side, I have never had so much work out, spread about the globe.... makes me feel a bit better about the temporary production slowdown.

There are few things as psychologically disruptive as disassembling one's studio... especially when you have not yet picked out the next one. We will be in a temporary apartment with bare necessities up North while we sell the house we have and search for a new one... I with nothing to do but read, embroider, and take care of The Peanut. I have chosen three embroidery projects to take with me, and will post in-progress images. It is tough, as painting has been off-limits, and I am itching to paint. Embroidery is much more appropriate for this time, as it is easier to pick up and put down. Everyone tells me I will just want to sleep when the baby sleeps, though I have never been much of a napper.....

I hated this house when we got here, but now I will be sorry to leave it, especially when I consider that our money will buy a place half as big (if we are lucky) in VA or Maryland. I will miss the green, the quiet, the safety, the easy life, but can't wait to get back to civilization, especially in a city where I already have so many old friends.

We came to NC three years ago, when my husband was offered a job at a major medical testing laboratory. I gave up my tenured position to make the move, the toughest thing I have ever done. When I met my husband, he was doing AIDS & cancer research at U of Miami. He has always been in his field to help people and do some good.

When the NC lab laid him off one week after I became pregnant, it was devastating. Seven months of unemployment while expecting a baby was incredibly stressful. Now that he has found a new position, I am having my first and only child, and cannot set up a nursery, because we have to relocate in the middle of all of it. We are living apart for a good part of our weeks, hoping that, when the time comes, I can get to the hospital (45 min away) and that I am in labor long enough that my husband, a deeply sentimental man, can drive the 5-7 hours back to NC without incident and witness the delivery of his only child.

My husband never really belonged in a place where he was trying to make things better and improve quality of patient care: higher-ups in the corporation only cared about the bottom line, and the people who worked for him just wanted to do their jobs with a minimum amount of change & effort until they could retire. He is presently employed at the FDA, where he is surrounded by other people with the common goal of trying to make a difference, regulating the kind of profit-minded corporations he used to work for. He is going to be a lot happier there.

As for me, giving up tenure to work in my studio full time was terrifying, but I never regret it: the risk I took has given me substantial jumps in my career. I have had three quiet years to focus on my work, and my resume has doubled. Even in this economy, as I contemplate going back to teaching, I could never have imagined the twists & turns my studio life would take. I am forever grateful for the opportunities that life in NC has afforded me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Blessed Art Thou" is featured in the newest (fourth) edition of the "Media & Society" textbook published by Oxford University Press, Australia. The authors are Michael O'Shaughnessy, who has taught film and media studies for 20 years in the UK & Australia, and Jane Stadler, who is Senior Lecturer in Film & Television Studies, University of Queensland. (click to enlarge)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The curator of "Raised in Craftivity" (and author of a related upcoming book), Maria Buszek, has posted info on the exhibition and installation views on her site.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I wish I could see the Lisa Yuskavage show in New York, and Nine Lives: Visionary Artists from L.A., because they have included one of my favorite artists, Lynn Foulkes....

Monday, March 02, 2009

Just received word that "Blessed Art Thou" will be included in a forthcoming documentary, "The Second Tear: Kitsch" for NDR/arte German Public Television, directed by Tink Diaz of Tag/Traum Filmproduktion. The film will focus on kitsch in contemporary art and culture.